Like every crop’s first few harvests, the spinach has been as near perfection as it will ever be.

Greens are especially pretty when they’re young and new. Although harvesting spinach leaf-by-leaf isn’t a terribly comfortable (or ergonomically correct) endeavor,

when there aren’t so many bug-eaten or yellowed leaves to discard along the way, at least our buckets fill quickly and there’s a sense of reward, of positive reinforcement, that comes with the task.

That’s not to say we don’t snip and toss a number of leaves, even at this stage of the game. We most certainly do. This farm is full of some mighty picky pickers who take pride in what ultimately ends up on our market tables. In fact, at the beginning of the life cycle of a crop like spinach, there is so much perfect or barely less than perfect foliage, more than a couple small holes is reason enough to impart harsh judgment upon a leaf and cast it aside like so much rubbish.

Regardless of the overall beauty of the crop, we always leave behind a trail of underachievers.

Trouble is, as the fall season wears on, finding perfect leaves will become more challenging. Like it happens with us all, the twilight years (or in this case, weeks) can sometimes be a little unkind. While the plants keep dutifully pushing out new growth, there’s simply no hiding their real age. They weaken, they lose the wherewithal to fend off insects, and even our last-ditch efforts to pump them up with nutrient-packed foliar sprays don’t do much to prevent the leaves from yellowing in exhaustion.

They work hard during their lifetime. Who can blame them for wanting to retire in peace?

This is why, with fall greens in particular, we almost always plant a second crop. Farmer John seeded spinach into freshly-tilled beds just yesterday, so that once the initial spinach crop becomes a bit too long in the tooth, we’ll have new rows of perfect and barely less than perfect leaves ready to take to market.

Let the old fellers have their rest, play some Canasta, nod off in their rocking chairs. The young whippersnappers will be eager to take over.

Already we’re harvesting from the second succession of arugula (milder than the older arugula was — less crotchety than the seniors, I suppose) and last week the latest planting of tiny Asian greens starts were set into the ground. Not a moment too soon for these spice girls. A few moments too late, actually, as most all the elder Asian ladies have already bid us a final oyasuminasai and zaijian.

We planted the second round of chard a while back. Since chard is one of the earliest of the fall season greens crops, it’s only logical to set out its replacement before any of the other younger generation of greens see the light of day. There isn’t much logic to this year, though (as I believe everyone can attest) and our chard has chosen an unexpectedly agreeable way to prove it.

As planned, the chard in the newest beds is beautiful and ready for harvest.

So in theory, as well as in past experience, the old chard at the other end of the farm should be signing up with AARP right about now, all set for those senior hotel discounts and Early Bird Specials at the diner.

But no. We can almost hear them exclaim “Not so fast, girlie!” and insist that Mary continue to fill basket after basket of their stunningly youthful-looking leaves a day prior to each market. Can you tell the difference between the new chard plants, pictured above, and these older ones?

We wouldn’t be able to either, were it not for the fact that the beds are in totally different locations. It’s the farm’s version of the Fountain of Youth, I’ll tell ya. Ponce de Leon would have been thrilled.

Or perhaps it’s more The Picture of Dorian Gray, only with a happy ending (and, um, with chard): neither the real subject nor the image in the portrait grows older.

If only we could all be so lucky. I’ll tell you one thing for sure — I’m planning to keep my eye on this chard, to try to figure out its anti-aging secret. As soon as I do, I’ll let you know.

* * *

Despite last week’s freeze (and thanks to Farmer John’s heroics a la row covers) we have oodles for market this week. On Wednesday we’ll be bringing:

The first heads of broccoli; spinach (of course!); beautiful lettuce mix; Euro salad mix; Purple and Golden beets; “bunching” green onions; pink and purple radishes; Napa cabbage; heads of ‘Tendersweet’ cabbage; Brussels greens; Fountain-of-Youth chard; summer squash — zucchini, Zephyr, yellow squash and Cousa; bags of arugula; green and white bell peppers rescued before the freeze; green tomatoes; and the first bunches of kohlrabi.

Jo Dwyer
Angel Valley Organic Farm
Farm stands:
Saturdays 9:00-1:00 in Jonestown on FM 1431 at the blinking yellow light; and
Wednesdays 10:00-2:00 in NW Austin at the Asian American Center, 11713 Jollyville Road (1-1/2 blocks north of the intersection of Jollyville and Duval)